Welcome back to "IP 101: Your Questions Answered". Today's edition delves into questions about music and copyrights. Rather than subject you to my put-on falsetto, which had been described as "soul-killing" and "why?", let's get right into the questions.
If someone publishes a song on a website or YouTube, can someone use it if it has not been copywritten?
The answer is an emphatic no. Just because the song isn't registered with the U.S. Copyright Office doesn't mean it is without copyright protection. Anytime an artist, in this case a writer/singer, puts a work into a tangible medium, they have copyright over that work. The only thing that not registering with the USCO means is that the artist isn't able to sue anyone who infringes. As with most things, a good rule of thumb is that if you don't own it, you shouldn't use it without permission.
Would it be wise to advice my users to register their songs before publishing?
It is certainly advisable to register songs, although as noted above, artists still have copyright without registration. But the best protection is registration with the USCO, as having registration allows you to take legal action against infringers. At the risk of indulgent self-promotion, I would recommend that any songwriters take advantage of the IP Vault. You can upload and time-stamp any song files to serve as third-party verification of when the song lyrics or recording was uploaded in the occasion you need to provide proof. And for any struggling artists out there, it's free to use.
I have a question about copyright. What if someone writes a song and dies and then someone else uses the song as their own?
Perhaps a bit morbid, but a valid question. Just as a songwriter holds a song's copyright when they create it, that right extends after their death. Typically the copyright goes to the songwriter's estate. One notable example of this was the lawsuit brought against Robin Thicke, which was filed by the estate of the late singer Marvin Gaye. So the passing of an artist doesn't leave their catalogue of works up for grabs. If you find yourself as the aggrieved party in a similar situation, it would be best to seek legal advice on what steps you can take.